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Striking Up a Balance

The seeds for Work-Life Balance were actually planted all the way back in 2015.

I’d co-authored and self-published a short story collection with a very limited print run that sold out pretty quickly. One of my stories in this collection was Mr Memphis.

Fast-forward to 2017. After completing work on what would eventually become Guidebook to Nanyang Diplomacy, Ben wanted to produce something smaller for Comic Fiesta that year, assuming that he had enough time and energy. He asked if he could reinterpret Mr Memphis and, that December, the comic debuted, coupled with a reprinting of the original short story.

By late 2018, Mr Memphis had pretty much sold out. One of the people who’d picked up a copy, however, was Felicia Low-Jimenez, co-creator of the Sherlock Sam series—and publisher at Difference Engine. In 2019, she dropped us an email about possibly doing something with a similar prose/comics dynamic as Mr Memphis. We started discussing ideas, but, well… there’s this whole pandemic thing you might’ve heard about.

At the start of 2020, we had a version of one of the prose stories done, but it got shelved for most of that year, much like a lot of projects in pretty much every creative industry at the time. Difference Engine gave us the option to take the book elsewhere, since we hadn’t officially signed with them yet, but both Ben and I felt that they were the perfect collaborators for it, so we all waited for things to either get better or for the world to come to a horrifying end.

Thankfully, it was the former.

In September 2020, we got another email from Felicia. The subject line read, “Restarting Work-Life Balance under Work-From-Home Conditions,” and if there’s one thing Ben and I love, it’s a play on words. (If there are two things that Ben and I love though, they’re a play on words and really good fried chicken.)


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Horror-fied

I’m a horror writer now.

Believe it or not, this only clicked for me last month when I was on a panel about stories of the supernatural in Southeast Asia—though, yeah, it seems like it really should’ve come a while back, if not because of my ongoing work on Ghost Maps, then certainly when Work-Life Balance was officially announced.

That said, I still side-stepped actually referring to myself as such out loud because, unlike sci-fi or urban fantasy, I’ve consumed very little horror, and it’s a genre that I certainly had no grand plans to work in. Also, just that word—horror—seems to come with this weight of stories that are far scarier than the stuff I’ve written or am writing.

Then I watched this wonderful lecture by Victor R. Ocampo.

In it, he talks about the history of spec-fic in Singapore and devotes a sizeable portion to horror.

Now, sure, I already understood that horror came under the spec-fic umbrella, but to hear someone else say it out loud—and specifically someone like Victor, who’s done such extensive research on the topic—it made me finally realise that writing about creatures and spirits isn’t that big of a leap from writing about post-apocalyptic kampungs or the living embodiment of cities.

More importantly though, it was reminder that, at the end of the day, a genre and its tropes are only just some of the ingredients that make a story work. So, if I felt confident calling myself a spec-fic writer out loud—then really, there was no reason why I shouldn’t be totally fine saying, “I’m a horror writer now.”


BiblioAsia

Speaking of the aforementioned post-apocalyptic kampung, my short story, “Satay,” was cited in this fascinating BiblioAsia article about spec-fic and the environment. You can read it online or pick up a physical copy of BiblioAsia’s April – June 2021 issue from the National Library.

“Satay” was part of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction’s final edition, which is still available directly from Epigram Books or from BooksActually.


Meet Lita

Ben’s debuted a couple of exploratory sketches for Lita, a manananggal from Work-Life Balance.

You can follow myself or Ben on Twitter, or our awesome publisher Difference Engine on Facebook.


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